Having already kneecapped bookshops the world over and walked away with a smirk on its face, oblivious to their cries for help as it gets into its car with tinted windows and waits, ever so patiently, for libraries to step out of their houses, just so it can get the perfect shot, Amazon has realised that the real problem lies with the supply side of things: as long as people who aren’t Amazon are publishing books, people who also aren’t Amazon can potentially make money, or at least stand in the way of Amazon making money, by selling those books.
So now, pulling on its black leather gloves and setting up with a tripod and a sniper sight on a rooftop on Yourstreet, Anyville, it’s taking matters into its own hands and taking on the real source of all these parasites, the big boss, the top of the pile, the cat who got the cream and a few other hard-boiled clichés to boot: the publishing industry itself.
The omnimultihypernationalmegaconglomerate and torturously metaphorical professional hitman announced its upcoming roster of self-published books (digital and physical) earlier this week, cutting out the only middleman left standing between itself and total domination of the reading public’s time and money.
Its first announced deal – with self-help author Tim Ferriss – might not be the coup de grace Amazon’s targets in publishing were expecting when it decided to ditch the long-range weapons and move in for a close-range contact kill (yep, sticking with that imagery, hoping to ride it out until it begins to make sense), but the news that it has paid Penny Marshall $800,000 for her memoir – that’s Penny Marshall, the Laverne of Laverne & Shirley, director of Big and voice of the Babysitter Bandit in that one episode of The Simpsons, not some other, far more famous and potentially lucrative Penny Marshall that you haven’t heard of but who would certainly be worth $800,000 to read about in her own words – confirms that it has the necessary venture capital to entice authors at all levels from their current homes.
The New York Times quotes literary agent Richard Curtis (not that one), who describes Amazon’s methods as ‘divide and conquer’, presumably because he can’t say ‘rape and pillage’ or ‘kill people for money’ without getting into trouble, even figuratively. Amazon is poised, if it so desires, to completely disregard any kind of industry that provides some kind of obstruction or filter between writer and reader: one division at a time, it has severely undermined every aspect of traditional publishing, from sales to courting new authors.
Far from the utilitarian revolution it would purport to be, though, Amazon’s dismantling of the industry is no such thing. All of those facets of publishing still exist; just under the one-stop Amazon banner. It’s not revolution: it’s a business throwing its toys out the pram and saying ‘if we can’t take complete control of books, then no one can’. And there’s something fairly frightening about that.